Under the Clean Water Act of 1972, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for regulating dredge and fill activities in waters of the United States, including jurisdictional freshwater and tidal wetlands. Some minor activities, such as aquatic habitat restoration, boat ramp construction, agricultural activities and modifications to existing marinas may be authorized through a general permit, which may be issued on a nationwide or regional basis for projects that are substantially similar in nature and are anticipated to cause only minimal or no individual or cumulative impacts.
There are currently more than 50 Nationwide Permits available to authorize a variety of activities. Nationwide Permit (NWP) 27 specifically authorizes aquatic habitat restoration, establishment and enhancement activities, and it was this general permit, issued by Linda Elligott, project manager in the Fort Myers Regulatory Office, that authorized a unique hydrologic and habitat restoration project in Charlotte County.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Program and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have partnered for the past decade to complete several habitat restoration projects on more than 4,000 acres of state-owned land within the Charlotte Harbor watershed. Two large-scale projects, the Alligator Creek Habitat Restoration Project and the Coral Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project, are currently under way, and are anticipated to provide a net benefit to regional aquatic resources and wildlife by restoring historic hydroperiods and overland sheetflow, improving water quality, enhancing shallow water habitat for the endangered Wood Stork, and providing an overall improvement to essential fish habitat in estuarine waters.
The SWIM program has partially or fully funded more than 40 research and restoration projects in the Charlotte Harbor watershed, leading to nearly 1,100 restored acres.
The Coral Creek Ecosystem Restoration project consists of hydrologic and habitat restoration of approximately 2,600 acres of degraded and impacted wetlands on the Cape Haze peninsula. It is expected to provide water quality polishing for stormwater flows entering the project area from a nearby subdivision. Construction on Phase I, encompassing about 250 acres, began this month and six additional phases are conceptually designed.
The Alligator Creek Habitat Restoration Project design is now in Phase III, with a goal to restore approximately 90 acres of wetland and salt-tern area that had been historically impacted by human activities such as ditching for agriculture and drainage/mosquito control. Once Phase III is completed, 12 individual projects will have been implemented within the 1,600 acre site. Future phases for this project have not yet been planned.
“The filter marsh is expected to be completed by May 2013; however, we’ve already observed Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills feeding in the marsh as it was pumped down,” said Stephanie Powers, staff environmental scientist with SWFWMD’s SWIM program. “Spoonbills were not generally detected in this area until construction began and we anticipate continued use of the marsh by both of these wading bird species when the project has been completed.”
Restoration monitoring designs are being developed by a cooperative partnership, including the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, SWFWMD and the Corps, to assess the effects of the hydrologic restoration on ecological habitats, both in Coral Creek and in the receiving estuary, Gasparilla Sound.
“We have just solidified a monitoring plan for Alligator Creek that will be conducted in North and South Silcox Creeks, the discharge point of Project 16, which was constructed by the Corps. This creek system flows into Charlotte Harbor,” said Powers.
“This is a great ‘do-good’ project story,” said Elligott. “This project and the monitoring design will serve as a prototype for other similar restoration projects throughout the region.”